If you look at our culture deck on Slideshare, you’ll quickly find that our first and likely most pronounced value is “Always choose positivity and happiness.

We have this as a very central theme in the way we work, live and how we hire here at Buffer. It’s one of the things that gives me the most fulfillment of working towards. It’s also one of the hardest and most aspirational values to live up to. At the very core, I believe it stems from the idea that happiness is a skill:

“Achieving durable happiness as a way of being is a skill. It requires sustained effort in training the mind and developing a set of human qualities, such as inner peace, mindfulness and altruistic love.” – Matthieu Ricard

I really like this quote. It makes me happy, because it means you can work on happiness, you can get better at it through effort. As a general person thriving to improve himself or herself, that’s very comforting.

Addressing an elephant in the room

At times, here at Buffer, I feel that our value of happiness can become an elephant in the room. Since we’re focused on seeing the silver lining in most all things we discuss or experience, it’s very encouraged to do so and to avoid negative remarks.

And yet, on our journey to becoming happier, there are inevitably times where we’re not 100% happy. What I found is that for me personally, I sometimes force myself to put on a smile regardless, to just think about the good things and keep pushing through.

That’s not ideal, as I leave the negative emotion completely unaddressed and unsolved. It’s like I’m pushing it away.

At the same time, putting negative feelings out there for everyone to be influenced by also doesn’t seem to be a great way to go about it.

Since multiple team members have asked me about how to best solve this conundrum, I thought it might be worthwhile to just talk about it and explore some ideas that have helped me.

Techniques to take care of unhappy days

Awareness and appreciation for negative feelings and emotions

One of my favorite authors is Thich Nhat Hanh and I’ve greatly enjoyed reading a lot of his books. He has an incredible approach to negative feelings such as anger or sadness:

“We should never let the energy of anger go on swelling up all by itself, unattended; we need to call up our energy of mindfulness to come and take care of it. Mindfulness is like a mother who comes to embrace her suffering, crying baby. Our anger is just like a crying baby. When the mother picks up the distraught baby and tenderly holds him in her arms, the child starts to feel better already. When anger is embraced by mindfulness, it too begins to calm down.”

Comparing anger or sadness to a crying baby is an incredibly powerful metaphor. Thich also describes what we all know, which is that a mother would never just push her crying baby away. Taking that same approach with our negative emotions and embracing them tenderly is a fantastic first step.

Simply acknowledging the emotion of “I’m feeling sad right now” or “I’m feeling a bit unhappy right now” and allowing yourself to experience that emotion and be OK with it is sometimes all that’s needed for it to be taken care of.

A great way to make sure we’re acknowledging the emotion is to simply take a few deep breaths, or to meditate for a few minutes on the situation.

As we all know, doing this by yourself can be very difficult, and opening up to someone else about it can work wonders. Here are some ideas we try to tackle that and some where we can do better:

Creating forums

Peer-to-peer masterminds

We recently switched to a new format when it comes to 1:1 chats between team leads and team members. Instead of a team lead being paired with their team members, individual team members are paired with each other.

These new sessions are now completely peer-to-peer centered. Our idea behind that change was partially to help people really get to some deeper, personal topics that they might be able to solve with someone else on the team. It’s often slightly more difficult to mention a tough personal challenge to a team lead, compared to a peer.

These sessions should hopefully provide a great forum for people to express their full emotions about various things affecting them and hopefully being able to find solutions.

Anonymous sharing

Another possible solution we’ve only very lightly experimented with is anonymous feedback and sharing of emotions. So far, this has been great to get a lot of people to open up and participate in a conversation. We’ve only done this once so far with an anonymous Wufoo survey that people could fill out to voice their opinion.

I’ve heard some great things about TinyPulse from Rand Fishkin or 15Five to help accomplish something similar.

tinypulse's happy scale

I believe an anonymous forum can be a very powerful way to allow people to voice certain things they might have trouble articulating otherwise. I’m excited to offer this more and see if that is a way to take better care of people.

Team lead monthly chats

Since we introduced our peer-to-peer masterminds, we still also maintained our chats with team leads. Although slightly less regularly (monthly, instead of weekly or bi-weekly), I hope that these chats can also be great moments for everyone on the team to share their thoughts and challenges, openly and without holding back.

Personally, I feel that since these chats are now less frequent, it’s a bit easier to take a higher level view and get more deeply into certain topics that aren’t just about the day-to-day work we’re doing.

Over to you

These are a few approaches we’re working with and I believe simply being aware about the fact that we’re not always happy is a great start. I know this might sound obvious, but I believe this may have been a mistake we’ve made in the past and are working to turn around now.

I’d love your thoughts on how you deal with your own emotions and how you might do so on a company-wide level. Give me a shout in the comments!

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Written by Leo Widrich

Co-founder and COO at Buffer. I enjoy writing about Buffer’s lessons learnt, social media tips and updates to Buffer. For some more personal posts, check out leostartsup.

  • piotry

    I’m curious about the timing of this post. Did your current fundraising inspire you or it’s simply a coincidence? :)

    • LeoWid

      Just a coincidence really! I try to write a new post every Sunday and this happened to be this Sunday’s post! :)

      • piotry

        Sunday is also my blogging day ^^ (kinda inspired by joel I have to say)

        This post deals with emotion management on daily events. However, I was wondering how you’d deal about major events that can bring your happiness down.

        I’m personally in this hard phase where I gotta let go of my startup. I’m abusing mindfulness to keep calm. While It does help in restoring some kind of peace. But on the flip-side, appreciating the moment somehow kills the ability to be motivated by a greater passion/mission/ideal.

        Speaking of which, you guys still looking for a growth hacker? :)

  • Viral

    Everyday is special and it has its miraculous message. It’s upon us to understand it and live it gracefully as it comes. Yes, and also living with all efforts for the best of our dreams we have to catch. Thanks for sharing and reminding it.

  • ares0926

    Being human gives you all the emotions not just the good ones. I often wondered about suppressing the negativity and it effect on the person.
    I tend to be happy and positive but negativity can bleed through at times. knowing you and your team are just people trying their best everyday is reassuring.

    • LeoWid

      Exactly!

  • michaelddavis

    I start and end my day with this simple list that I refer to as the Dream Team Daily Ten. It’s not original content as these ideas have been shared by many. The key is to personally commit to own and share them with others.

    1. Start each day knowing I WILL succeed in making a positive difference in the world
    2. Challenge myself to be a better person, mentally, physically, socially and spiritually. Not matter what. Change begins with me
    3. Appreciate the beauty around me regardless of where I am
    4. Laugh often and love genuinely
    5. Seek and find the good in people and situations
    6. Respect others without judging them
    7. Help someone smile
    8. Explore new ideas and passions. Learn something new
    9. Give what I can to make the world a better place
    10. End my day knowing I have done my very best and will do so again tomorrow

    • LeoWid

      Super powerful list, thanks for sharing it Michael!

  • Great quote by Thich Nhat Hahn! I’ve read several of his books and even saw him speak. It was beautiful. Thank you for bringing his wisdom into your workplace. When I worked at Whole Foods years ago, we had an in-store counselor and also access to phone-in counselors. The peer-to-peer chat really helps, but sometimes you can feel really overwhelmed by your peer’s suffering. Might be something to look into. I know, WF is a huge company, etc. but everyone needs a hand up sometimes.

    • LeoWid

      Love Thich Nhat Hanh, so glad you do too Angelene. Great point, having ways to mitigate tough situations by yourself is very useful!

  • I think acknowledging and accepting (or beginning to work through) the negative emotions is a huge first step. I know in my day-to-day life as I’ve explored this topic it’s helped tremendously — there’s a wave of relief in just admitting to someone that “Today is rough” or “This isn’t working for me” or simply “Im tired and cranky and I just need 30 minutes to chill out and grab a granola bar before I tackle this next task…” It’s human to have those moments, and in telling someone it diffuses the build up of those negative emotions.

    I, too, sometimes struggle with being known as “little miss sunshine” and the chick who’s ALWAYS able to find the silver lining in feeling that I’m perhaps not allowed bad days or moments. Which is unrealistic, so for those who just see the posts on social media – of course it looks mostly rosy. But when I need to, I’m also quick to tell at least ONE person if I’m struggling – if anything so that ONE person can be at my side or “have my back” if I need a bit of quiet support.

    Great post, I’m excited to see how the Buffer team can work together through this as well. :)

    • LeoWid

      Hi Casie, great point! Yup, exactly like you say, it’s incredibly useful to try and see the silver lining in everything we do! At the same time, admitting when we’re not feeling 100% and being ok with that can be a vital step to feeling 100% again in no time.

      Great idea, I think sharing what you’re struggling with is such a powerful way to work through any kind of emotion.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  • Just as I was reading the quote by Thich Nhat Hahn, I had to pause to pick up and comfort my baby :) Such a great analogy for dealing with less-than-stellar feelings! One book that I think everyone who wants to work on positivity should read is “The Happiness Advantage” by Shawn Achor. Leo, I think you’d really like the book since it’s largely about building new neuro-pathways that are wired to see things in a more positive light (Achor is a PhD in positive psychology)… re-training ourselves in a way.

    A great exercise he mentions is writing down three new things you’re grateful for each day… Could be something as small as “there was no line at the coffee shop this morning,” but it gets you actively looking for things you can write down throughout the day and puts you in a more positive mood automatically. Worked amazingly well when my husband and I decided to implement it, I would imagine it could be a great team exercise as well! Maybe you could incorporate it into your iDoneThis somehow?

    • LeoWid

      Love the gratefulness exercises and enjoyed Shawn Achor ted talk a lot! Thanks for the kind suggestions Rachel!

  • Alexandre Terrien

    100% agree with “forc[ing] myself to put on a smile regardless, to just think about the good things and keep pushing through.” That’s also how I tend to deal with all the unhappier events in life – just focus on the silver lining and life becomes eminently better. Philippe Gabilliet, who heads ESSEC, one of the largest business schools in France, articulated this point a bit differently. He studied people who were “lucky” v. “unlucky” and found that everyone is “unlucky” in life (we all fall sick, people close to us unfortunately pass etc.). But the difference between “lucky” and “unlucky” people is how people react to those events. If you react positively and keep moving forward, you’ll be seen as “lucky”; if not you’ll be seen as “unlucky”. It’s in french but if you can understand, here it is: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OoF-_1YKjSU

    • LeoWid

      Completely agreed Alex, I think “we smile because we’re happy” is as true as “we’re happy because we smile”.

      Thanks for the video, very intriguing, need to pull out my rusty French! :)

    • Wow, thanks for this video Alexandre! I was “lucky” enough to have Philippe Gabilliet as a teacher at ESCP. I completely agree with him, luck is provoked by the ability to create opportunities.

  • Such an interesting piece. It is insightful to read how other individuals and companies can be “happy all the time”.
    Your article has got me thinking how to best to manage and consider this ‘issue/feeling. You sound as if Buffer is a larger company than ours and I ask myself: “do we really have a great difference in our approach to this”?I don’t think so. Ultimately, we are sensitive to these feelings, individually and as a team. What is important is that we talk and make time to talk. Hiding away from our feelings and what is affecting our happiness has a direct impact on and in our lives and that of our working lives too.
    Can we be happy all the time? I would like to think we can, it takes effort, changes in our attitude, changes in our behaviour and sometimes, it takes help from others and it is that asking of others that can be the start to that change.
    The value of positivity can never be negated.
    Thank you Leo for a thought provoking article…
    Best wishes… and be happy!

  • Ruben Martins

    I personally deal with thoughts and emotion by using inspiration from “Non-violent communication” developed by Marshal Rosenberg

    I explain it in my own way

    1º I notice my emotion and then
    2º I notice what is that I am thinking or experience that triggers the emotion
    3º I then try to understand what are the values that my emotion seek to achive
    4º I make suggestions to achieve what I value most in the moment (I make sure I use suggestions that take care of relationships and safety).
    5º I try to make safe and conscious actions to get me closer to what I value.

    You can try this way to deal with emotions, just check with you right now.

    1º How do you feel right now?
    2º What is that you think or experience that triggers that emotion?
    3º What are the values you seek by feeling like that?
    4º What could be done now be closer to that value?

    Hope you find this useful.

    Thank you Leo for the post!
    I am glad to see the transparency and the invitation to participate.

  • So glad you addressed this topic, Leo. I must admit – I was always curious about whether teammates were hesitant to express potential “bad days” amongst a company that thrives on positivity. It’s great to see you’ve created a great system for your teammates to do so, while still maintaining your values. :) Great post!

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  • Mike Peiman

    Thanks for the article and sharing your company’s culture and challenges so openly. I want to turn our gaze towards the shadow for a moment. We have a culture that in many ways is superficial, fragmented, and unhealthy. There is a huge pitfall in trying to “always be happy” or “always be positive”: ignoring the shadow. We all have a shadow side; so-called negative feelings, thoughts, and unconsciousness. It is part of being human. The danger is in ignoring it, trying to lock the door on it, or pretending it doesn’t exist. Shadow that is unacknowledged will then operate through our unconscious, and basically will come bite you in the ass, sometimes in very destructive ways.

    Balance, self-awareness, and authentic self-expression are keys to a meaningful life and fulfillment. We can only have these when we holistcally include both our shadow and our light. We truly cannot schism the dark from the light; but we can shine the light of awareness into the shadows, thus growing in self-knowledge and the ability to disarm the demons of our subconscious.

    Here are a couple of articles that also address this theme:
    http://markmanson.net/stop-trying-to-be-happy

    http://markmanson.net/hidden-costs-of-happiness

    http://oneplanetthriving.com/2011/12/unrealistic-optimism/

    http://www.fastcompany.com/3021264/work-smart/5-big-happiness-myths-debunked-do-worry-be-happier

  • Great post Leo. I appreciate acknowledging that happiness is a skill we choose to learn or to pass by. I have a few heuristics to get through a frustrating thought or two that are worth adding:

    Do something goofy — there’s nothing like taking yourself out of a normal set of circumstances to push away unhappiness. Sing a song you love, skip around the office for a moment, ask everyone around you for a high five. There’s something about mixing it up that sheds the funk from the day.

    Let it be fuel — unhappy moments tend to form in result of dissatisfaction. While it cannot be the only source of inspiration, dissatisfaction can be quite inspirational. Turn its momentum to slump down into all the more reason to stand up and speak. That reminder is always handy for me.

    Listen to inspiration — Whenever I’m having a day that’s more difficult to flip on its head, or I’m feeling too tired to have a lot of energy to put into my feelings, I love pulling up an inspirational soundtrack or two from http://8tracks.com or this poem by Shane Koyczan: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V7OGY1Jxp3o

    Thank you for sharing.

  • Job Ben

    Thank you for sharing your mind with us.

  • Lisa Bell

    This is a value that I try to live by! I like to think I do a pretty good job at it, but there is always somewhere to improve the happiness in your life to make you even happier! In fact, I took a step toward a happier life today! (I applied to Buffer!!!) This is by far my favorite of the 10 values, and just thinking about the aspects of this particular value can sometimes help you when you’re having a bad day.